Bears beat Westerly, but miss out on state playoffs
Stonington - Stonington and Westerly put on another entertaining Thanksgiving Day football show on Thursday.
The Bears managed to wrestle away a hard-fought 33-28 victory in the 154th meeting in the series.
"It's amazing every year," Stonington junior Matt Mitchell said. "It never gets old."
Unfortunately for the Bears (8-3), they didn't receive the help needed to clinch a Class M playoff berth, falling short for the second straight year.
Stonington coach A.J. Massengale learned his team's fate after the game, but still received a pretty nice consolation prize in Thursday's win.
"We knew this was going to be a tight game, it always is," Massengale said. "It's a great rivalry. It's a great game and a great tradition. You always want to win this game no matter what your record is. It's a privilege to be a part of it."
Stonington couldn't celebrate until Mitchell recovered an onsides kick with just over a minute left. The Bears extended their lead in the overall series to 71-66 to go with 17 ties.
Senior Harry Calmar accounted for three touchdowns - rushing seven and 15 yards for scores and catching a 23-yard pass from quarterback Divante White - and finished with a team-high 80 yards overall and two receptions.
"It's always really fun when we play against Westerly," senior Zach Poirier said. "There's so many people. The environment is always awesome.
"... We were really determined to win. ... The turkey always tastes better when you win."
The Bears played opportunistic football, taking advantage of a few mistakes and good field position. Their effective single wing attack scored on five of their first seven possessions.
They also played well on special teams. Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 67 yards, setting up his team at the Westerly 18-yard line. Two plays later, he bolted 17 yards for a touchdown only 50 seconds into the game.
Westerly answered in the second quarter, turning a fumble recovery into Thomas McGuire's 9-yard touchdown run to tie the score.
This is when the game started to swing in Stonington's favor. After Calmar's 7-yard touchdown run capped a 58-yard drive, the Bears recovered a fumble at the Westerly 38.
White connected with Calmar on a 23-yard touchdown for a 19-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Westerly's Jacee Hamelin raced 80 yards for a score.
The underdog Bulldogs (3-8) refused to go away. Offensive lineman Ryan Young alertly recovered a fumble in the end zone on the opening series of the third quarter. Quarterback Scott Liguori's 2-point conversion run handed Westerly its first and only lead, 22-19.
But high-powered Stonington, which came into the game averaging 35 points, found the end zone again. Poirier's 54-yard kickoff return helped set up his 6-yard touchdown run to push the Bears ahead, 27-22.
Then a costly mistake put Stonington in prime scoring position. With the Bulldogs in punt formation, they fumbled, turning the ball back to the Bears at the Westerly 30. Six plays later, Calmar ran up the middle and into the clear for a 15-yard touchdown run and a 33-22 edge late in the third quarter.
Westerly played the final quarter without Liguori, the heart and soul of the offense. He left the game with an injury. Clayton Minnich finished with 123 yards, including a 1-yard TD run with 1:09 left.
"We had too many turnovers, but it was hard fought," Westerly coach Chris Wriedt said. "We moved the ball very well on them offensively. Obviously, they did what they do well and it hurt us. They're a big play team and they made big plays."
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